Ralph Braun (1940 – 2013)
Most people in the United States don’t know who Ralph Braun is, but for thousands of disabled people and to those who live in the small town of Winamac Indiana, he is a true legend. If you’ve ever been on a bus or shuttle van with a wheelchair lift, chances are that it was made by The Braun Corporation. His vision, wisdom, and the perseverance to overcome the challenges of his own disability, resulted in the availability of wheelchair lifts and accessible minivans worldwide.
As a young man, Ralph decided to build his own electric scooter out of spare parts and whatever tools he could find in his parents garage. He later called it “Frankenstein”. He would drive his scooter on the road from his parent’s house to work every day, rain or shine, where he was quality control manager for an auto parts manufacturer. When others learned about his invention and wanted him to build more scooters, he decided to create Save-a-Step Manufacturing to build the first production-made motorized scooter – all while still working a full-time job.
When the auto parts factory had to be moved farther away, he needed to transport himself and the scooter in order to keep working. With this challenge and his ingenuity, the first Braun wheelchair lift and postal truck van was born in 1966. Four years later, in 1970, he made a lift for traditional full-size vans. With injured soldiers coming home from the Viet-Nam war, his lift business continued to grow and eventually became a full-time passion. In 1972, The Braun Corporation was created.
It wasn’t until 1991 that The Braun Corporation introduced its first wheelchair accessible minivan. The ramp conversion of a Dodge Grand Caravan was the start of today’s popular BraunAbility Entervan – and the lowered floor accessible minivan industry as we know it today.
Thanks to Ralph Braun, the disabled community has more options to ride in a vehicle of their choice. They now have the ability to go where they want to go, when they want to go. Thousands of Braun wheelchair lifts are being used around the world in both commercial vans and personal-use consumer vehicles. Thousands more minivans are being used by individuals with automated and manual fold-out ramps – for wheelchairs and scooters.
The MobilityWorks family has truly lost a friend who will never be forgotten. No one has had such a profound impact on the disabled community’s ability to travel — and the lives of so many families. Ralph surrounded himself with a leadership team at The Braun Corporation that will continue his vision and passion for helping the customer. We are proud to be a partner with the company he started from those very humble beginnings. He leaves with us a legacy of helping countless people to regain their independence. We will miss him greatly.
Note: Ralph Braun’s book “Rise Above” tells his inspirational life story. Available through Amazon.com, sales proceeds help to raise funds for The Ralph Braun Foundation.